By EVAN LEHMANN
WASHINGTON -- President Bush struck a cordial tone in his final State of the Union address, but Vermont lawmakers questioned his assertion that the nation "made good progress" under his leadership.
They blunted Bush's conciliatory timbre by criticizing what they say are missteps in economic, foreign and domestic policies -- even as Democrats and the White House work cooperatively toward an economic stimulus package that could drop billions of dollars into the pockets of taxpayers.
U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said Bush "misled America by omission," accusing him of painting the Iraq war and the economy with rosy, upbeat colors.
"President Bush failed to deliver new ideas or new solutions to the challenges we all face," Welch said. "It's time to end the war in Iraq. It's time to focus on economic policies that help all Americans get ahead, not just get by."
Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., likes the idea of $600 rebate checks, but indicated that he'll disturb the placid bipartisanship when the stimulus package makes its way to the Senate.
"I believe the Senate has got to do a lot of work on that legislation and improve it," he told reporters on a conference call hours before Bush gave his speech.
Sanders wants the package to include expanded unemployment benefits, tax rebates for a larger percentage of the elderly, increased funding for home heating programs and food stamps, and bolstered job training programs.
"When you ask me what the state of the union is, it is very clear that the middle class is hurting, poverty is increasing, people are losing their health insurance, people are losing their pensions," Sanders said. "That is the state of the union as it applies to normal people in Vermont."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said that under Bush "squandered opportunities continue to pile up."
"I am especially concerned that one of the problems that he is deferring is bringing our troops home from Iraq," Leahy said in a statement. "Tonight he again made clear his intention to keep Americans in the middle of that conflict and to keep sending tax dollars to Iraq on a trajectory that is headed for a trillion dollars."
By EVAN LEHMANN
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